Ragweed season officially began August 15 and runs through September. I’m not allergic to it, but those of you who are may want to know the enemy and learn how to avoid it.
First, a primer on what is NOT ragweed.
Goldenrod is not ragweed. Ragweed (Ambrosia sp. on left) is a wind-pollinated plant with green flowers on thin spikes. Goldenrod (Solidago sp. on right) is a bee-and-butterfly pollinated plant with yellow flowers in a feathery plume. Don’t worry about those yellow flowers. Goldenrod is not busy spreading pollen; it’s busy attracting bees.
Ragweed (Ambrosia genus) is a member of the Aster family native to the Americas but now spread to Europe. The most common species in Pennsylvania, common ragweed Ambrosia artemisiifolia, grows easily by the side of the road and in disturbed places. It doesn’t stand out.
Common ragweed’s female flowers are nearly hidden in the leaf axils and pollinated by the wind.
The male flowers are the ones to worry about. Perched on spikes, facing downward, and loaded with pollen, a slight tap is all it takes to release a cloud of pollen. Imagine what the wind can do!
A single plant may produce about a billion grains of pollen per season, and the pollen is transported on the wind. It causes about half of all cases of pollen-associated allergic rhinitis in North America. … Ragweed pollen can remain airborne for days and travel great distances, affecting people hundreds of miles away. It can even be carried 300 to 400 miles (640 km) out to sea
One advantage of botanizing the same place over and over again is that you get to know what grows where. You remember a plant that draws attention in the spring, forget it in the summer when it’s boring, then notice it again in fall. Because it’s in the same location, you know what it is.
The identity of this dangling blue fruit was a puzzle until I remembered that it’s hanging from the fringetree that put on a floral show in May.
Dianne and Bob Machesney visited Cedar Bog, Ohio in July to catch up with the plant in bloom. (Dianne’s photo above.) Here’s another look at it from Wikimedia Commons, photographed at Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada.
Enjoy the plant’s beauty but never eat it! The entire plant contains a deadly alkaloid. Ingestion causes coma and death. Yikes! It earned its name.
(photo at top by Dianne Machesney. Second photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)
This yellow vine — called dodder (Cuscuta sp.) — wraps itself around other plants, inserts its “teeth” into a host, and sucks out water and nutrients. Yes, dodder is a parasite but it doesn’t kill its host. It might even be performing a service.
In a few weeks this plant will be very aggravating. Those tiny green balls are solidly attached to the stems right now but soon they’ll dry out and grab onto your clothes and your dog if you brush past the plant. They’re the fruits of Virginia stickseed (Hackelia virginiana).
Virginia stickseed is so inconspicuous in bloom that we barely notice it at this stage.
The flowers are tiny …
When fertilized they become small burs made of four nutlets facing each other. The outer surface is like velcro.
To give you an idea of their size, I pulled some fruits off the stem. It was hard to detach them because they haven’t dried out yet in early August.
Just wait until they turn brown!
p.s. There’s another less common native plant called small flowered agrimony with a similar fruit. Read more about it in this vintage blog: Slightly Aggravating.
(flowering plant photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. All other photos by Kate St. John)
Perhaps you already know this but it was news to me: Cinnamon repels ants.
Cinnamon comes from the dried inner bark of a tropical evergreen, the cinnamon tree (Cinnamomumsp.). Ants would eat these trees alive if they could but the cinnamon genus evolved a very effective defense: two chemicals, Cinnamaldehyde and Cinnamyl alcohol, that are toxic to ants. Ants stay away from cinnamon.
In this 9-minute video, the guy from You Can Science It shows that even swarming, warring ants will drop what they’re doing when confronted with cinnamon. He theorizes that it changes their messaging from “Kill the other colony” to “Oh no! It’s cinnamon!” (video begins where he starts discussing cinnamon. Click here for the full video.)
Yes, cinnamon repels ants but it has to be fresh and you have to use a lot of it.